12 great online places. (online information services) (Compute's Getting Started With: Online Communications)
by Clifton Karnes, Richard O. Mann, David English, Robert Bixby
America Online's News-stand contains an electronic version of COMPUTE, including the full text of the articles and reviews for a year or so back. In addition, there are files for downloading that have been featured in the magazine's shareware columns and a robust message area.
Among the message topics are Ask the Experts, Talk to the Editors, and a variety of hardware and software topics. The Talk to the Editors topic is a lot of fun--it transforms the printed COMPUTE into an interactive medium where you can immediately go online with questions and comments for the editors (and many of the writers).
To become a participant in this magazine, drop by the COMPUTE forum on AOL. And if you need a copy of an article or review you remember from a recent issue, it's there on AOL, waiting to be downloaded and printed. Drop by--the editors and writers would love to see you there.
Entertainment Drive (CompuServe)
It's billed as a "backstage pass to the entertainment industry." That pretty well describes E-Drive's wealth of information about movies, television, music, and theater--much of it direct from the movie studios, television networks, recording studios, and other entertainment companies. You'll find GIF files from recent film productions, up-to-date schedules for top cable channels, and the latest gossip from Hollywood columnists Marilyn Beck and Stacy Jenel Smith.
By browsing the libraries, you might learn how the Corporation for Public Broadcasting funds PBS and NPR, read trial summaries from the upcoming week on Court TV, chuckle at David Letterman's Top 10 lists going back to February 17, check out MGM's planned film releases for the rest of the year, and download the cover art for many recent hit albums.
There's also an active message area with intelligent and often highly opinionated discussions on such hot topics as how the cast of "Star Trek: Deep Space Nine" is developing and what we might expect from the new Turner Classic Movies channel.
In short, E-Drive is the latest hot ticket for anyone who wants to closely follow the entertainment industry or make better-informed entertainment choices.
Executive News Service (CompuServe)
I admit it: I'm a news junkie. I don't feel right unless I've seen the daily newspaper or watched the evening news. Something may have happened since yesterday, and I need to know about it.
If you're similarly afflicted, check out Executive News Service on CompuServe (type GO ENS). You can configure ENS to match your interests and have the system search through thousands of news reports while you're offline. ENS currently scans 20 news services, including AP Financial, Reuters World Report, UPI Sports, The Washington Post, and OTC NewsAlert.
In addition to the public folders provided by CompuServe, you can set up three personal folders with as many as seven search criteria for each folder. For example, if you set a single search criterion (such as computer) and choose all 20 news services, you'll fill your folder to its capacity of 500 news stories in a matter of a day or two. On the other hand, if you choose several narrow criteria, such as programming, Windows utilities, and icons, while selecting only a few of the news services, it may take several weeks to fill your folder.
One word of warning: To use the Executive News Service, you must pay a $15-per-hour surcharge on top of CompuServe's base connect rates. And to create personal folders, you must become an Executive Option subscriber.
The Fiction Workshop (America Online)
This is a plug for a writers' workshop operated by my friend Mesotron (that's his screen name). Each week, a member of the workshop submits a story or a piece of writing. The writing is E-mailed to each of the other members of the group a few days in advance of the workshop. Each member can write a critique including suggestions for improving the writing), which is E-mailed to all the members. That's a lot of E-mail. And often new rounds of E-mail will be initiated by some statement in the criticism.
At 10:00 on Wednesday nights, the group meets in the chat area in the Writers Club (just press Ctrl-K, type writers in the dialog box that appears, press Enter, and then double-click on the text Chat Area in the What You Can Select column).
In the actual workshop, the discussion is carefully controlled to prevent chaos. There are a lot of excellent writers in the group, but the range of experience among the writers runs from amateur to professional, so no one need fear entering the discussion. If you're interested in how fiction is created (or in creating better fiction of your own), the Fiction Workshop is the place to start.
Genealogy Bulletin Board (Prodigy)
The Genealogy Bulletin Board on Prodigy takes advantage of that service's massive user base to put people with questions together with those who have answers. Genealogy--the study of the history of families and tracing of ancestors--is one of the fastest-growing hobbies in the world. Finding ancestors is a tough job, though, because it always involves searching records in distant places, often in other countries.
Using the Genealogy BB, you can post specific questions on topics that usually specify locations. You might post a query saying you had family in Jackson County, Kentucky, in 1812 and wonder what reference sources are available. Chances are good that someone among the thousands who monitor this board will have useful information, which they can quickly post or E-mail to you.
The staff of the Family History Library of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in Salt Lake City--one of the world's largest repositories of genealogical information--monitors this topic and posts answers to general questions. They report a positive response rate of better than 33 percent to questions posted here by Library patrons.
This terrific resource is helping hundreds of people every day.
Morningstar (America Online)
Most small investors prefer buying mutual funds to buying individual stocks. But with thousands of mutual funds to choose from, how do you know which ones are best for you? Help is available online from Morningstar, the best known and most respected of the many mutual fund rating services. While the coverage of the online version of Morningstar Mutual Funds (keyword: Morningstar) isn't as complete as the coverage found in its many publications, you'll find a great deal of information about many of the 3400 mutual funds that Morningstar tracks.
For example, you can search the database of mutual funds by fund family name or even by the fund manager's name. Additionally, you can browse articles by individual fund name, fund type (such as Aggressive Growth or Specialty-Technology), or Top 25 list (such as Top 25 Overall Mutual Funds or Top 25 Balanced Funds--Ranked by 1-Year Return).
The screen for each fund includes the fund's basic goals and rules of operation; performance for the past one month, three months, one year, five years, and ten years; a relative risk rating; fee information (including front-end and hidden sales charges); minimum purchase; contact information; and overall rating. Morningstar updates the data once each month.
If you own one or more mutual funds, check out Morningstar Mutual Funds on AOL and see how well your investments are really doing.
Microsoft Knowledge Bases (CompuServe)
For up-to-date information on computing, you can't beat Microsoft's two Knowledge Bases on CompuServe. The first area, known simply as the Microsoft Knowledge Base (type GO MSKB), covers everything but programming, while the Microsoft Developer's Knowledge Base (type GO MDKB) covers programming topics only.
The Microsoft Knowledge Base is a master database of information about Windows, DOS, and all other Microsoft products. Every time Microsoft's support staff encounters an important problem, solution, or workaround, it documents it in the Knowledge Base. In the last three years, the Knowledge Base has turned into a vast repository of more than 30,000 tips, shortcuts, and secrets concerning almost everything you can imagine.
The Developer's Knowledge Base houses more than 16,000 articles on programming DOS and Windows using a variety of languages and tools, including C, C++, MFC, Visual Basic, Access, FoxPro, and a few other more esoteric ones.
I think of each Knowledge Base as my own personal problem solver and candy store. If, for example, I'm having trouble with a specific piece of hardware running under Windows, the Knowledge Base is the first place I look for help. And if I have some spare time and I want to find some tips on Windows programming, the Developer's Knowledge Base is the place to go.
The New Republic (America Online)
In high school, I developed a political bent. Ever since, I've loved discussing issues. But for whatever reason (perhaps it's my tendency to spit when I'm losing an argument), I've never been a debater. The online world is different from the face-to-face world, though. As long as I have plenty of Windex handy for cleaning stray spittle from my monitor, I can debate online until I'm blue in the face.
My favorite hangouts on television are the political discussion programs on CNBC and CNN, and my favorite place to go on America Online is The New Republic. The New Republic uploads controversial articles by such writers as Michael Kinsley and Andrew Sullivan (often seen on public affairs programs on television), along with film criticism and occasional humor pieces. These are fun and educational to read, but the real action is going on under the button marked TNR Issues Discussion. In the discussion area, serious thinkers (meaning me) mix with cranks and crackpots (meaning everyone else) in a lively, ongoing discussion of the news and principles that shape our nation.
A word to the wise is in order, however: Strong language and flames are the rule rather than the exception, so put on your castiron boxing trunks before entering the ring. Be prepared to face fierce challenges to all of your most fondly held preconceptions.
News Room (America Online)
Most people enter the News Room (a public room under the People Connection on America Online) hoping for a discussion of the news, but generally the room is far too busy debating current events in depth to waste time on the headlines. It's hard to state a position (or challenge one) effectively in the single line of text allowed in the People Connection interface, but that's part of the fun. Typically, parallel discussions will be in progress on gun control, abortion, separation of church and state, and the latest twist in the Whitewater saga. Pick out the issue that most interests you and jump in.
It's always a good idea to have an issue to discuss, just in case nothing interesting is happening when you arrive. My preference is to take a position that runs completely counter to common sense and then defend it against all comers.
Sometimes the discussion becomes more friendly, and during those lulls you might discover that the person with whom you were engaging in a hot debate only moments before is a real human being whose beliefs and concerns virtually mirror your own. If you can't find an interesting conversation in the News Room, you probably can in one of the Rush Rooms to be found in the Member Rooms section. (If there isn't a News Room or a Rush Room, create one, and opinionated people will find you.)
Technology News (America Online)
One of my favorite online places is buried deep in America Online's internals. It's the Technology News section, which has up-to-the-minute news stories on technology in general and the computer business in particular. Although you can't go directly to Technology News, the path you take has some interesting scenery.
First, you go to the News & Finance forum. As you might guess from the title, this area has all sorts of news, weather, sports, and business info, and it's definitely worth browsing itself. Next, click on the Technology button, and you'll find yourself face to face with a listing of all the computer magazines online (including COMPUTE). Next, click on the Technology News button and you're there. You can browse through stories in the list box or search for stories using a keyword. I usually search for Microsoft or computer to focus the list a little. This is the best place I know of to find out what's going on in the computer world.
Windows Shareware Forum (CompuServe)
I'm a shareware junkie, and the best place to find shareware is CompuServe's Windows Shareware Forum (type GO WINSHARE). You'll see thousands of titles here in a variety of categories. I used to check out the new listings once a week, and it took me about an hour to do it. Now I use CompuServe Navigator to automate the process and check the forum every day because it's so easy.
The thing I really like about WinShare is that it contains the mother lode of Windows utilities. There are scores of file utilities, memory and resource utilities, general Windows utilities, font utilities, disk utilities, and general utilities. In addition, WinShare has fullblown applications, including communications programs, network apps, program manager replacements, business and finance programs, PIMs, and Windows NT programs.
A huge, lively message base complements the file sections and keeps members on top of things. In short, if it's shareware, you'll find it here.
Writers Ink (GEnie)
Writing is a lonely profession, done (in my case) in the wee hours of the morning when interruptions are rare. Yet writers feel a need to hang around with kindred spirits, to compare notes, commiserate over rejections, and rejoice over sales and successes. Professionals and wannabes alike enjoy being together.
All the services have writers' areas, but Writers Ink (WINK) on GEnie is exceptional in its congenial feeling of friendship and community. I have many friends I enjoy meeting there every day or two, exchanging messages on the WINK bulletin board.
WINK includes areas for poets, fiction writers, journalists, scriptwriters, writers of young adult materials, and so forth. We upload drafts of stories and articles and offer critiques. We compare notes on editors, agents, and publishers. We help with each others' research, give advice on dealing with non-writer-friendly spouses and relatives, and talk about almost anything.
If you're interested in writing, WINK is the place for fun, encouragement, and help. Join us.